Tag Archives: Venk Koyu

Religious people behaving badly (and far, far worse), three.

One.

At last, attention of a popular as well as a scholarly kind is being given to the innocuous-sounding World Congress Of Families (WCF), an Illinois-based alliance of conservative religious groups (to date, most such groups exist within the embrace of the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Why is the WCF a manifestation of religious people behaving badly? Because it is leading a global legislative and public relations campaign against LGBTQ and reproductive rights. It is being listened to far too readily in Africa and Russia, two parts of the globe where LGBTQ and reproductive rights are already most under threat. For anyone who wants confirmation that the activities of the WCF must be challenged, type “World Congress of Families” into your search engine and, if short of time, examine articles only by Political Research Associates, Right Wing Watch and the Human Rights Campaign. You will get the full picture very quickly.

Two.

It is almost certain (even the Israeli government believes that what follows is true) that the fatal arson attack on 31st July 2015 that left eighteen-month-old Ali Saad Dawabsheh dead in his family’s West Bank home was carried out by Jewish settler extremists (whether Hassidic or Haredi settler extremists we cannot, at this point, tell, but, if I were pushed to hazard a guess, I would say responsibility lay with Haredi settlers).

Religious people frequently prefer to burn, burn rather than build, build

Religious people frequently prefer to burn, burn rather than build, build

Three.

A devout Jewish protester armed with a knife ran amok during Jerusalem’s Gay Pride March stabbing six people – one woman seriously – in the worst incident of homophobic violence in the city for a decade.

According to eyewitnesses, the attacker, named by a police spokesperson as Yishai Schlissel, had hidden in a supermarket and waited for the march to arrive. Witnesses described seeing Schlissel, “an ultra-Orthodox Jewish male” who had been released from prison three weeks earlier after serving a sentence for stabbing several people at a gay pride parade in 2005, run screaming through the crowd in a central Jerusalem street stabbing people at random before being overpowered by police.

A few days after the stabbings, Shira Banki, aged sixteen, died of the wounds inflicted by Yishai Schlissel.

Four.

Leaders in the Methodist Church in the UK have apologised for failing to protect children and adults following nearly two thousand reports of physical and sexual abuse dating back to the 1950s.

When people feel that members of a religious group behave in a reprehensible manner (e.g. priests in the Roman Catholic Church sexually abuse children and young people), expressions of outrage can be violent. Malaga, Spain

When people feel that members of a religious group behave in a reprehensible manner (e.g. priests in the Roman Catholic Church sexually abuse children and young people), expressions of outrage can be violent. Malaga, Spain

Five. 

A former minister who held one of the most senior roles in the North-East Anglican Church is facing trial for a string of serious sex offences dating back to the 1970s. The Venerable Granville Gibson, aged seventy-nine, former Archdeacon of Auckland, County Durham, has appeared at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates Court charged with eight offences in total relating to two alleged victims, both of whom were teenagers at the time.

Six.

The Islamic State continues to deny Muslim women under its control the same rights as Muslim men and exploits non-Muslim women as sex slaves. Moreover, Yazidis who have escaped from territory ruled by Islamic State militants confirm that Yazidi males have been murdered in substantial numbers. Despite the brutality of the regime, considerable numbers of men and smaller numbers of women travel from Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia to lend their support to the Islamic State. Worries about the Islamic State and religious groups almost as extreme are so acute in the UK that David Cameron, the prime minister, announces a five-year plan designed to combat extremism and radicalisation.

Seven. 

Mohammed Fakhri Al-Khabass of Middlesbrough is believed to have persuaded at least sixteen medical students to travel from Sudan to Syria to join the Islamic State.

Act of Remembrance for the seventeen people murdered in Paris in January 2015, St. Nicholas CE Cathedral, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

Act of Remembrance for the seventeen people murdered in Paris in January 2015, St. Nicholas CE Cathedral, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, UK

Eight.

Matthew Syed, a Muslim, writes in a passionate but informed manner about the need for Muslims to address the misogyny that exists in some expressions of Islam, misogyny that makes scandals such as the sexual abuse of children and young women in Rotherham more likely to occur.

But…

Sajda Mughal, the only known Muslim survivor of the 2005 7/7 terrorist attacks in London, is given an OBE for services to community cohesion and interfaith dialogue.

Venk Koyu, near Malatya, Turkey

Venk Koyu, near Malatya, Turkey

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A letter to “The Times” newspaper about the sexual grooming of children and young women.

Sir,

For many years political correctness has led to the identity of the community most obviously involved in the sexual grooming of children and young women in the UK being described as Asian rather than Muslim. We are consequently encouraged to hear the prime minister’s assertion that “a warped sense of political correctness” will not stifle attempts to fight these crimes – which he now classes as a “national threat”.

The Sikh and Hindu communities have for decades been at the receiving end of predatory grooming by members of the Muslim community and have for some time campaigned in the UK for it to be recognised that this is so, as recent high profile sexual grooming cases involving Muslim gangs confirm. The emerging evidence clearly highlights that most of the gangs originate from within the Pakistani Muslim community and that their victims are almost always of a white, Sikh or Hindu background.

We urge the prime minister to tackle head-on why so many young Muslims in the UK have this disrespectful attitude toward women in non-Muslim communities, and we urge him to urgently engage with the leaders of the Muslim community to find answers to a problem that demeans women, that does incalculable damage to interfaith harmony and that has a detrimental effect on the public’s perception of the Muslim community generally.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Network of Sikh Organisations (UK).

Anil Bhanot, the Hindu Council (UK).

Ashish Joshi, the Sikh Media Monitoring Group (UK).

Mohan Singh, the Khalsa Sikh Awareness Society (UK).

Gunduzbey, near Malatya, Turkey

Gunduzbey, near Malatya, Turkey

Sadly, there is considerable evidence to confirm that the thrust of the letter is accurate in all or most of what it says (thus, a good Sikh friend of mine in Newcastle provides shelter, food and education in safe houses around the city to the Sikh and Hindu victims of Pakistani Muslim gangs who operate in Leeds and Bradford). But is this an appropriate task for the prime minister to engage with? This is a problem that must be addressed by the men of a very particular religion and ethnicity.  And such men must begin by asking whether a statistically significant number of Pakistani Muslim males engage in such sexual grooming because of how they perceive and engage with females within their own community. Next, and perhaps most troubling of all, they must ask whether such sexual grooming is an inevitable outcome of a religion that exaggerates the differences between male and female, that accords to girls and women far fewer rights and opportunities than it grants to boys and men, and that sees girls and women as both threats to male well-being and legitimate targets for sexual exploitation.

Anyway: the letter above provoked from a friend of mine, someone very knowledgable about the world of Islam, the following reflection, a reflection which demands from individuals within the Muslim community to confirm that gender inequality and the sexual exploitation of girls and women are not inevitable facets of a religion which, at times during the medieval period in particular, had much of which it could be proud:

I support just about everything in the letter to “The Times” except the idea that the prime minister should “tackle head-on why so many young Muslims in the UK, etc.” The prime minister could use his considerable influence to ensure Muslim leaders “find answers to a problem that demeans women, etc.”, but this is a problem that is most apparent among Pakistani Muslim men in particular (note the evidence from Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and Newcastle, for example) and, perhaps, Muslim men more generally (Muslim males of non-Pakistani origin have also been charged with sexual grooming of girls and young women, but in numbers far smaller than those from within the Pakistani community itself). It is time that the Pakistani and/or Muslim community took full responsibility for a problem that is self-evidently of its own making. The Pakistani and/or Muslim community needs to get its own house in order and should not – does not – require anyone outside the community, least of all the prime minister, to steer it toward doing what is no more than the right thing.

My worry is that the root of the problem lies with scripture itself and not “merely” the culture associated with Pakistani Muslim men. There are simply so many statements in the Qur’an and the Hadith that point to the inferiority of girls and women; that state how girls and women should be denied the rights and opportunities granted to boys and men (e.g. in relation to dress, education, employment, marriage and inheritance); and that conclusively stack the cards against girls and women being treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. Moreover, look at how, in the Muslim world generally, the honour of the family is fundamentally shaped by the behaviour of female relatives (in particular, such honour is shaped by how female relatives behave in the company of males who are not relatives), but men can commit the most dreadful crimes against humanity without bringing obvious shame on themselves or their family (they can also drink, take drugs and engage in sexual practices forbidden to women, presumably because boys will be boys!).

The challenge for Muslim leaders, whether Pakistani or otherwise, is that they need to find within their scripture theological justification for treating males and females equally, for providing males and females with the same rights and opportunities, and for according to girls and women precisely the same respect and dignity that should be accorded to boys and men. My Muslim friends frequently tell me that justice, equity, equality and respect for human rights lie at the heart of the Islamic faith. If this is so, I urge Muslim leaders to get to work to confirm it, in the first instance in relation to gender alone (then, perhaps, a theology of equality can be elaborated in relation to sexuality, disability, non-Muslims with or without a faith commitment, etc.) . The victims of misogynistic Muslim male attitudes and behaviour need to be confronted with that theology of gender equality now.

Venk Koyu, near Malatya, Turkey

Venk Koyu, near Malatya, Turkey

Wow: I hear what is said and agree with much of the content. But can such a theology of gender equality be extracted from scripture? I believe it exists, but only if Muslim leaders ignore the much more compelling/detailed/problematic theology of gender inequality. Here is a tip for those honourable Muslim leaders, Pakistani or otherwise, who are determined to get their own house in order. Rely less on scripture to identify a theology of gender equality and examine Muslim history and tradition instead (in particular, examine how some Shia and Sufi groups have given expression to gender equality in the past and continue to do so today). But, for perhaps an even more obvious source for a theology of gender equality, engage with the many brilliant Muslim feminists (most of whom remain alive, thankfully, despite repeated death threats from males hostile to gender equality) who have done all the groundwork for the Muslim leaders already. Yes: confirm a commitment to gender equality simply by taking seriously what Muslim women really want and act upon their demands. As the meerkat says, “Simples.”

Battalgazi, near Malatya, Turkey

Battalgazi, near Malatya, Turkey

P.S. Even before this post was published, a Muslim friend who kindly examined the draft pointed out, “And do not forget ijtihad, which allows for individual interpretation of scripture where scripture is not wholly explicit or unambiguous about what should be the case. Also, you are correct. While Islamic scripture appears to provide people with a theology of gender inequality, a very careful selection of statements from the Qur’an and the Hadith allows for a theology of gender equality. I am confident that Muslims will rise to the challenge this post provides for them to express such a theology of gender equality.”

Venk Koyu, near Malatya, Turkey

Venk Koyu, near Malatya, Turkey

Religion: does it facilitate or inhibit gender equality?

Shiva and Parvati, manifestations of the divine in male and female forms. Gender equality in Hinduism?

Shiva and Parvati, manifestations of the divine in male and female forms. Gender equality in Hinduism?

Why is it that so many expressions of religion deny girls and women the same opportunities as boys and men? Is it that God, gods, the supreme being/beings, ultimate reality and/or the divine are all too often described as if they are male? Is it that men and not women wrote all or most of the world’s scripture? Is it that men edited scripture in such a way that women’s contributions were suppressed? Is it predicated on daft ideas that the physically powerful (males) should always shape life for the physically less powerful (women)? Is it predicated on the equally daft idea, no longer sustainable of course, that males are intellectually superior to females?

Goddesses and women have played varied and significant roles in many religions throughout history, so why have they been nearly invisible in the official stories of most religions? In the contemporary world, women often make up the majority in any congregation/gathering for religious ritual purposes, but they are less well represented in leadership positions.

A woman idealised. A barrier to gender equality?

A woman idealised. A barrier to gender equality?

The qur'anic class concludes with refreshments, Arapgir, Turkey. Note the difference in headwear

The qur’anic class concludes with refreshments, Arapgir, Turkey. Note the difference in headwear

I am not convinced that religions are necessarily sexist in their beliefs, practices, predispositions or general character. By way of opening up discussion about this matter of supreme and fundamental importance about religious commitment (a religion that cannot treat males and females as equals is highly suspect and deserves condemnation of epic proportions to encourage it to mend its ways immediately), I will dwell on the case of Christianity, which, in its very earliest decades, looked as if it would present a formidable challenge to prevailing norms about gender roles. Too bad, therefore, that, in a relatively short time, males of sometimes questionable character (e.g. note in the first three or four centuries of the religion’s existence the disquiet expressed about the abuse of children, some of it of a sexual nature. Have things changed that much since?) seized the reins of authority and quickly marginalised women. In other than only a few fleeting instances thereafter, it was not until two centuries following the Reformation in the 16th century that some of the Protestant churches began to address the issue of gender equality in a holistic and serious manner (although, in fairness, some expressions of Christianity prior to the Reformation allowed women to attain positions of considerable influence, but only within monastic orders).

A general comment to begin with. To a very large degree, the Bible has been written by men for men about men (to what extent is this also the case in relation to scripture in other religious traditions?).

However, in John’s Gospel, women are active, innovative and ministers of the kingdom to come. They are affirmed in roles unusual/unacceptable in contemporary Middle Eastern society.

Books of the Bible written before John’s Gospel make it clear that women should be the bearers of their husband’s children and satisfy their husband’s sexual needs. Biology shapes women (and men of course) and determines their roles in society. In a lot of early Jewish literature, women are defined as unclean and sexual temptresses, and contact with women should therefore be avoided. Because they were “responsible” for male temptation/deviation from an ethnically sound life, women were barred from public life lest they cause men to sin. Because women were not thought to have the intelligence of men, they were discouraged from using their initiative. In fact, it was sinful for women to study the Torah. Moreover, because they lacked intellectual ability, they could not act as witnesses.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus calls women to public ministry despite male opposition to the idea. He engages in theological discussion/debate (“I am the messiah”) with a Samaritan woman (who is doubly suspect, for being a woman and for being a marginalised/distrusted Samaritan). He talks with Martha about resurrection. The news of his resurrection reaches the disciples via Mary Magdalene.

Jesus is happy to interact with a marginalised Samaritan who is also a woman, someone whom many Jewish people at the time would have regarded as unclean. But it is the unclean Samaritan woman who is persuaded that Jesus is the messiah – and she drops/abandons everything to share her knowledge with others. She is therefore a model for apostolic activity and would therefore seem to be on an equal footing with the disciples. Her role in John’s Gospel is described in the same way that John’s Gospel describes the disciples’ ministry.

The Samaritan woman is the first person in John’s Gospel to whom Jesus reveals himself as the messiah and she is the first person who acts on that recognition. She is therefore the recipient of important theological information. Jesus treats her seriously and responds to her comments patiently and thoughtfully. To a very real degree, therefore, she is a model of female discipleship. This seems to imply that women can be messengers of the kingdom.

In John’s Gospel, Marta of Bethany is introduced/described in such a way as to suggest that she is more important than Lazarus. Jesus delivers “I am” speeches to Martha and Martha’s response to them mirrors that of Simon Peter in Matthew’s Gospel. Simon Peter’s response is generally viewed as confirmation that he has a leadership role, which would therefore imply that Martha is like a leader within the Jesus sect. Jesus sees Martha as capable of perceptive and discerning faith.

Even in stained glass windows, men invariably outnumber women. St. Vitus's Cathedral, Prague

Even in stained glass windows, men invariably outnumber women. St. Vitus’s Cathedral, Prague

If Chapter 20 of John’s Gospel is taken at face value, it would seem to provide the ultimate confirmation that Jesus is the resurrected Christ, the Son of God. Mary Magdalene finds the tomb empty and tells Peter and the Beloved Disciple. Mary Magdalene is told to tell Jesus’ brothers the news of the resurrection. She is therefore entrusted with the supremely important message of Jesus’ triumph over death. It is due to this role that Mary Magdalene has been called the apostle of the apostles. A woman is informing/teaching the male disciples about the most basic tenet of the Christian faith, about the most startling mystery at the heart of the religion. One is therefore compelled to ask, “Is Mary Magdalene the equal to Peter?”

In some key respects, therefore, Jesus in John’s Gospel is revealed as distinctly radical/revolutionary in relation to the cultural norms of his age. He seems to suggest/confirm that women do not seduce men and that they should have access to public life. He seems to say that women should benefit from education. However, the Bible very soon confirms that all the disciples are male. Does this therefore confirm that Jesus is really a man of his time despite the above? Or does this merely confirm that others who came after him subverted his original intentions?

There is an indication in Chapter 12 verse 2 of John’s Gospel that Martha may have served at a table, perhaps as what became known as a deacon or, eventually, a minister in a house-church.

Although the earliest Christian texts attest to the importance of women in Jesus’ entourage and in the running of the first Christian house-church meetings, women rapidly disappear from the official history of church leadership (is this so because leaders within the church conformed with Paul’s hostility to women playing an active, public role in society/the church comparable to that of men?). However, sufficient evidence exists (historical and biblical) to confirm that, in those early days of innovation, Christianity accorded to women a role within the emerging religion that was indistinguishable from that of men. Consequently, far from the Church of England’s recent ordination of a woman as a bishop being a departure from early Christian tradition (of course, women bishops have existed for some years in the Episcopalian Church, the US version of the Church of England), Anglicans have simply brought practice within their denomination into line with the seeds sown in the decades immediately following the execution of Jesus.

Torah scrolls, Reform Synagogue, Newcastle-upon-Tyne

Torah scrolls, Reform Synagogue, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. For a number of years now, the synagogue has had a female rabbi

Although the great majority of religions worldwide discriminate against women in favour of men, or withhold opportunities to women that they grant to men (can anyone come up with examples of sexism that are more blatant?), the Church of England, the Episcopalian Church, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church are among the Christian denominations that have female priests/ministers, and within Judaism all “schools” except Orthodoxy encourage women to train as rabbis. Men and women share priestly responsibilities in ISKCON and in many manifestations of what is collectively called Paganism. Women also play a key role in rituals associated with the religion known variously as Vodou, Voodoo or Vodun (e.g. female Vodou priests are called “mambos”). In some manifestations of Sufism, men and women assume an equal role in ritual practices, and monasticism for males and females exists in many forms of Christianity and some forms of Buddhism.

Where are the girls? Where are the women?

Where are the girls? Where are the women?

Can anyone identify the other religions around the world which accord women exactly the same opportunities as men to play a full/leading role within their faith? I’m not interested at this stage in those religions which say women are equal to men (this is frequently alleged by expressions of religion, but quite rarely carried through in practice); I seek instead evidence that this is so in terms of their authority within the religion. Put another way, if authority figures within a faith are men, can women fulfil exactly the same roles? And if not, why not? If they can’t fulfil such roles, don’t tell me it’s mere tradition because, if it is, tradition needs to be challenged yesterday. Slavery was traditional, but it no longer exists in most parts of the world (it is most common in India, however, where an estimated 14 million people – yes, 14 million people – suffer from different types of bondage/false imprisonment, children and women primarily). Female infanticide was traditional, but it is rarely encountered today (it appears to be most common in the People’s Republic of China). The burning of witches was traditional, but today it seems to be confined to only a few places in Africa and Melanesia. Human sacrifice was traditional, but it would appear to have died out everywhere (except in Louisiana, if “True Detective” is to be believed).

Unnecessary differentiation by dress, Venk Koyu, near Malatya, Turkey

Unnecessary differentiation by dress, Venk Koyu, near Malatya, Turkey

Who can say for certainty what form the divine assumes (if it exists at all, of course)?

Who can say for certain what form the divine assumes (if it exists at all, of course)?